The justice we need


By Frank Wessling

We got Osama bin Laden after a 10-year chase. The man considered most responsible for inspiring and financing the team of conspirators who killed nearly 3,000 Americans in a frightening terrorist attack Sept. 11, 2001, is dead, killed in a raid on his Pakistan hideout by a U.S. military team.

President Obama called it “justice.” Can we agree with that?

We can, but only in a limited sense. Christian faith seeks a justice that restores a balance required for unity between and among people. The pursuit and capture/killing of bin Laden may be a move in that direction but by itself there is only the smell of vengeance.

As some of the 9/11 victim family members noted, bin Laden’s death did not bring “closure” after their loss. Revenge is never sweet in that way. It is only more loss, a reinforcement of what the Church calls a culture of death. What we really seek, the only soul-satisfying release of grief, is the deep reintegration of life.


This requires a shift of focus away from the cause of pain. At its best, this movement is also forgiveness, as with Jesus on his cross. But it can begin by pushing that cause off center stage, by ending a “war on terror,” for example, and concentrating our energy on what heals and restores relationships — on what builds human life.

There is a model in what so many young girls do who make the mistake of trusting that this one experience of sexual intercourse will be OK, but find themselves pregnant afterward. The boy has disappeared or is not husband material. Amid the dying dreams and heavy responsibility suddenly clouding the horizon of their lives they turn to the new life growing in them.

Their energy becomes concentrated on the practice of life skills, on their ability to welcome and nurture new life. It doesn’t happen all at once, generally requires help and collaboration with others, and the pain of losses may linger, but the focus is on living.

If Osama bin Laden’s death means we Americans can now follow a similar path, we may count it as gain. We will think less about war and its associated fears. We will think more about a shared Earth and how to live together in harmony with it. We will be more sensitive to the way others see us and our power.

We will think less of that power as dominance and self-protection while extending it more as a gift of shared light and well-being — in other words, raising higher the Statue of Liberty’s promise and projecting it outward to the world.

We can let the world know that we are too big to be satisfied with simple vengeance. We stand for a real, substantial, peace-making justice. This is what Pope Paul VI had in mind when he said that “If you want peace, work for justice.” It’s the vision behind President Ronald Reagan’s words when he called this country “a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”

We’ve had enough of warrior patriotism. Let’s begin an era of justice-setting, of peace-building patriotism more worthy of our promise as a nation.

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